Why Can’t I Mail It? – Self-Mailers

As you know from part one of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign. Now let’s look at Self-Mailers

As you know from part one of “Why Can’t I Mail It?” with postcards, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues, here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign.

Now let’s look at Self-Mailers:

  1. Self-Mailer size is 3.5 x 5 to 6 x 10.5, anything larger is not mailable in this category. A self-mailer is a single or multiple unbound sheets of paper that are folded together and sealed to form a letter-size mail piece.
    The USPS created this category in Jan. 2013 to stop jamming and tearing of mail pieces. To us it has been a pain to redesign sizing and folding. Why not just slow the machine down a little? But, alas, that is not the case.
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum of 70lb, as long as the weight is under an ounce. If the weight goes over 1 ounce, the minimum is 80lb. Anything less will need to go in an envelope.
    Our main issue with this one is how the heck will the postal clerks know what kind of paper stock was used? Are they really going to measure them all? We get it that thin equals floppy and floppy equals bad for machines, but it could have been addressed with a thickness of 0.009 or something along the usual guidelines.
  3. Keep your aspect ratio between 1.3 and 2.5. In order to calculate the aspect ratio, you start by looking at the mail panel, then take the length of the self-mailer and divide it by the height.
    We are told that the reason for this rule is machine compatibility, when the mailer is short and long it does not run through the equipment correctly, causing jams and again torn mailers. We don’t want that!
  4. There are two options for addressing a self-mailer.
    • Barcode in the address block: A 4 x 2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text or images for the address block. The block needs to be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
    • Barcode clear zone addressing: The barcode clear zone is the bottom 5/8 of the postcard and must be free of all color, text and images. Next the address block must be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and minimum of 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of 0.125 inches.
      These requirements are meant to keep the address in the OCR (Optical Character Reader) read area of the postal equipment. Honestly, the current equipment has more read area than this, but getting the post office to change rules in our favor does not happen!
  5. There are two kinds of folds: horizontal and vertical:
    • Horizontal folds: The final fold is below the mail panel. This can be an 8.5 x 11 half folded, an 11 x 17 half folded and half folded again and so on. If you use the 11 x 17 keep in mind that the first half fold needs to be to the right of the mail panel, the second below it.
    • Vertical folds: The final fold is to the right of the mail panel. Folding requirements are very strict so make sure to adhere to them.
      This rule was created so that mailers would have a fold in the two areas that most often cause machine jamming the bottom and lead edge. These seem a little stringent, but we do want the mailers to arrive looking nice!
  6. Tabbing or fugitive glue closures are required:
    • Tabbing: Up to 1 ounce mailer needs two 1 inch tabs, mailers over 1 ounce need two 1.5 inch tabs and if you are using perforations or inserts it needs two 2 inch tabs.
    • Fugitive gluing: use a continuous glue line of 1/8 inch wide or glue spots of 3/8 inch diameter, three to four spots or elongated glue lines 1/8 inch wide, three to four lines. As an example, on a horizontal fold you will have two tabs above the mail panel or two to the right and one to the left. On a vertical fold you will have one tab above the mail panel and one to the left, or two to the left.
      This one really hurts! With all these tabs and glue, the mailers are really hard to open and in a lot of cases they tear. Not really the presentation we are looking for!
  7. Poly bag/envelope: If you use a poly bag or envelope, your mail will have to go at flat postage rates. You cannot use them with self-mailer letter size mail.
    This is not too onerous, but it would be nice to be able to use the clear envelopes to keep the mailers looking nice and still be able to see them.

Your best bet is to design your self-mailer and then send a pdf to your direct mail provider, to have them find any problems with the design. They can help to make sure you are automation compliant and save on postage. As you are going through the process, do not let it stop your creativity. It is the unique and creative pieces that get the recipients attention and increase your ROI.

Do not let these regulations limit your design. There are plenty of ways to create self-mailers that standout and get attention! Contact your mail provider for samples and suggestions.

Leveraging Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Copywriting

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France, and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We had rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing to the passenger rear tire sent me over the edge: the tire was nearly flat.

Going into the trip, I anticipated that renting a car and driving would generate some anxiety. It began with the fact that the car came with a manual transmission. The last time that I had driven a vehicle with a manual transmission was on the family farm in the 1970s. I thought driving with a manual transmission after all those years would be like never forgetting how to ride a bike. Apparently not. After dozens of times stalling the engine in intersections and at toll booths due to the learning curve of syncing acceleration and releasing the clutch, I felt fear. After three days of driving, I finally got past the learning curve of using a manual transmission.

But it was in the moments returning the car with a nearly flat tire that was my worst fear of all. There was no place to pull over on the crowded streets of Barcelona. Traffic was heavy. Motorcycles buzzed around us. Yet we were only blocks from the car rental facility. We couldn’t get there from where we were.

Fear consumed me. It’s an instinctive response, and there is science that helps to explain why fear is all-consuming.

The amygdala, or lizard brain, has an evolutionary purpose for humans to survive. The amygdala reacts in a “fight” or “flight” mode. It is alert to basic needs—anger, fear and reproduction—with memory formulated over a lifetime as it assesses how to respond to survive and reproduce.

The right amygdala retains negative emotions, especially fear and sadness. The left amygdala retains both pleasant and unpleasant emotions.

Because we’re wired for fear and negative emotion more dominantly than for positive emotions, fear, uncertainty and doubt take over.

And these emotions are the most powerful human emotions that marketers can leverage.

For fear to work, and for you to be credible in your copy, consider these three pathways:

  1. Begin by stimulating your prospect’s emotion with how you relate to their fear, uncertainty and doubt (“FUD”).
  2. Once you have acknowledged and reminded them of their FUD, you’re poised to take the next step of earning trust.
  3. Quickly calm their minds by offering your solution and clearing away the FUD.

When your mind is in constant fear, it’s difficult to think. You’re stuck. You’re frozen. You can’t make up your mind. Your decision-making power is blocked.

Marketers can leverage the power of fear to stimulate emotion, but to be effective, you must quickly calm the mind so that decision making is unblocked and you can move your customers to the thinking part of their brains where they can make decisions.

As for the rest of the Barcelona driving story, thankfully, after several minutes of fear and panic, we ditched using the navigation. Our daughter had been studying there for the semester and her internship’s office was in the general neighborhood of where we needed to return the car. She had never driven in the city, but was familiar with the streets.

She calmly gave me the turn-by-turn directions to the car rental return facility. When I finally recognized a landmark only a block away, my fear vanished and a calm enveloped me. We arrived before the tire had gone completely flat. And now I could think clearly once again and return to enjoying our vacation.

Why Can’t I Mail It? – Postcards

What do you mean the post office won’t let me mail it this way? Almost every day we get this question from a client. Since the post office has made mailing very complicated, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign. Let’s start this week, with Postcards

What do you mean the post office won’t let me mail it this way? Almost every day we get this question from a client. Since the post office has made mailing very complicated, there are many times that a design element causes a mailing to go at a higher rate of postage. This can be frustrating as well as expensive. In order to help you stay away from potential issues here are some things to keep in mind as you are preparing a direct mail campaign.

Let’s start this week, with Postcards:

  1. Postcard size is 3.5 x 5 to 4.25 x 6, anything larger is considered to be in the letter category.
    Go figure! The post office saying that a 6 x9 postcard is not really a postcard, but a letter? Who thinks of these rules?
  2. Paper stock must be a minimum of .007 thick, anything less is not mailable unless you put it in an envelope.
    In this case, the rule makes
    sense. When the paper is too thin, the postal machines rip them up. Better to go with a thicker stock that won’t look like someone took a bite out of it before delivery.
  3. Keep your aspect ratio between 1.3 and 2.5. In order to calculate the aspect ratio, you start by looking at the mail panel, then take the length of the postcard and divide it by the height.
    We are told that the reason for this rule is machine compatibility, when the postcard is short and long, it does not run through the equipment correctly, causing jams and again torn postcards. We don’t want that!
  4. There are two options for addressing a postcard:
    • Barcode in the address block—4×2 clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text, or images for the address block. The block needs to be a minimum .5 inches from the right edge and .625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly, the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of .125 inches.
    • Barcode clear zone addressing—the barcode clear zone is the bottom 5/8 of the postcard and must be free of all color, text and images. Next the address block must be a minimum 0.5 inches from the right edge and minimum of 0.625 inches from bottom edge. The block can be no higher from the bottom of the mailer than 3.5 inches. Lastly the address must remain at a minimum distance from graphics or text of .125 inches.
      These requirements are meant to keep the address in the OCR (Optical Character Reader) read area of the postal equipment. Honestly, the current equipment has more read area than this, but getting the post office to change rules in our favor does not happen!

Your best bet is to design your postcard and then send a pdf to your direct mail provider, to have them find any problems with the design. They can help to make sure you are automation compliant and save on postage.

As you are going through the process, do not let it stop your creativity. It is the unique and creative pieces that get the recipients attention and increase your ROI. Do not let these regulations limit your design. There are plenty of ways to create postcards that standout and get attention! Contact your mail provider for samples and suggestions.

At Your Service! Really!

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

I had to meet a friend unexpectedly at the hospital the other day. As you would expect, my mind was racing with all sorts of “what ifs.” I was wondering where to park when I pulled into the main entrance, and several kind people positioned at the door offered to valet my car and escort me to where I needed to go. This level of service reminiscent of a fine hotel, not a hospital, pleasantly surprised me. Genuine helpfulness and sincere caring. (And, thankfully, all turned out well for my friend.)

As a brand strategist and a customer of many brands, I am in tune to the many ways companies tout their customer service. If your experiences are akin to mine, actual meaningful and truly excellent service still seems to be a rarity. Customer service gets lots of talk time (the one true brand differentiator!) these days, but is it time to double check and see if your brand is paying more than lip service to this important customer-centric activity?

Do you know if your service level is actually accomplishing what matters most to your customers? Would customers consider it a concierge experience? Take a peek at these examples and see how a few companies pay more than lip service to this important function:

Focus: Target Audience
Bed Bath & Beyond knows that the back-to-school season is almost akin to Christmas-in-August for its brand. With thousands of new freshmen heading to campuses nationwide in need of all things dorm related, Bed Bath & Beyond has truly gone beyond in creating an amazingly useful college-prepping brand experience. The website is chockfull of helpful advice about pertinent things top-of-mind for new college students. Take a peek at the topics covered in their online College Checklist:

  • Storing Your Stuff
  • Making Your Bed Better
  • Climate Control
  • An Inspiring Work Area
  • Resolving Technical Difficulties
  • Keeping Your Room Clean
  • Doing Laundry
  • Surviving a Shared Bathroom

After perusing both a printed checklist, a succinct magalog and an online version, students can enter their colleges in the company’s website and see if there are convenient Bed Bath & Beyond locations near their dorms so they don’t have to haul all this new merchandise from home. This concierge-esque brand takes it even a step further and has prepared lists of what the specific colleges and universities have already provided, what they want students to bring and what is not allowed. There’s even a college registry available, all set for family members who may want to gift the new freshmen upon high school graduation with these dorm life must haves.

And, once those students are settled in and living their particular collegiate lives, Bed Bath & Beyond continues to develop its student relationships with a “Grade My Space” program described as follows:

Grade My Space is a new interactive site where you’ll get an inside look at college living spaces and residence halls. Students connect and share ideas, designs, comments and provide the inside scoop on campus living and more.

How might your brand borrow brilliantly from Bed Bath & Beyond and put this usefulness in action for one of your specific customer segments?

Focus: Product Category
Target’s “guest-centric” brand attitude has always hit the bull’s eye, but the company is building on this experience in one particular category in a more nuanced way across 300 of its stores—Beauty. According to a recent press release:

Participating stores are staffed with a Target Beauty Concierge, a highly-trained, brand agnostic beauty enthusiast who is available to answer guests’ questions in-store. Serving as a trusted expert, the Beauty Concierge provides guests with personalized, detailed and unbiased information about beauty and personal care products offered at Target and acts as a knowledgeable source of advice in what can sometimes be an intimidating department. Beauty Concierges are located in the beauty aisles at Target wearing a distinct black apron. No appointment is necessary.

In addition to Target doing this with beauty, Lands End has done this with swimwear … a troublesome category for many women. Might there be a department or category within your brand that customers would welcome some one-on-one consultation? How might you enhance your service level in a key product category to generate not only more sales, but a more customer-centric experience?

Company-Wide Focus
Nordstrom has long wowed its customers with service that goes the extra mile. Today, its website reminds customers that unlike some other department stores, working with Nordstrom personal stylists is “fast, fun, free and zero pressure!” They’ll even prep your dressing room for you in advance of your visit.

“We’ll be there the whole time to offer new suggestions and honest advice—even if you are only looking to research, not to buy.” My girlfriend utilized this service in helping outfit her son, a new college graduate preparing for an international job opportunity. Not only was the time saved important, but now this stylist has all his measurements and style/color preferences recorded to make future shopping needs a breeze.

Office supply multichanneler, Staples, also is promising a company-wide concierge experience to back up its brand promise of “EASY”! Under its “Need Help?” tab is a listing for Product Concierge. Here’s what Staples says:

Can’t find what you’re looking for? We’re here to help! If you need help tracking down an item, we’ll search for it for you-even if it’s something we don’t currently have on our site. Tell us a bit more about the product and we’ll do our best to find it. There’s no obligation to buy.

Might your brand be able to promote this kind of across-the-board expectation? If not, what might have to change to do so?

Truly serving your customers concierge-style takes a full commitment from each and every brand ambassador within your company. It requires active listening and keen observation. It requires a servant heart and a willingness to sweat the small stuff to provide an excellent and memorable experience that will not only delight your customers once but keep them coming back for more … and raving about your brand to others.

Make Your Brand Blossom

This week I have flowers on my mind. It is planting season here in the Colorado Rocky Mountains … a bit later than most areas of the country. My husband and I live at 8,100 feet near Pikes Peak and the log home that our five acres is built on is frequented by deer, rabbits, foxes, coyotes and wild turkeys. In addition, all sorts of birds from owls to bluebirds to magpies and hummingbirds flit about. For many, where we live is too remote. For us, it is our sanctuary.

This week I have flowers on my mind. It is planting season here in the Colorado Rocky Mountains … a bit later than most areas of the country. My husband and I live at 8,100 feet near Pikes Peak and the log home that our five acres is built on is frequented by deer, rabbits, foxes, coyotes and wild turkeys. In addition, all sorts of birds from owls to bluebirds to magpies and hummingbirds flit about. For many, where we live is too remote. For us, it is our sanctuary.

While we love the splash of color that annuals and hanging baskets add to our flower beds, over the years we have reluctantly succumbed to making more and more of our landscaping bloom without us. Older and wiser than when we first moved here, we have learned to give into the wildlife who view our flowers as food, the early summer hailstorms that can decimate all our hard work in minutes and our often-on-the-road travel schedules that do not allow much time for all the things that plants crave on a near daily basis: weeding, deadheading, transplanting, watering, fertilizing and tending.

So it was with great delight that I learned about Proven Winners Shrubs in Country Living magazine as I flew home from my last business trip. This company captured my attention with a colorful full-page ad that casually highlighted one word over a gorgeous Hydrangea plant: OVERACHIEVER. This particular plant is called the Invincibelle® Spirit, and is positioned as one that requires minimal care, supplies abundant blooms, and is easy to grow. This is our kind of shrub. As a matter of fact, the entire line of Proven Winners feels like it was created just for us.

Since being enchanted with that ad, I researched this brand further and learned that Proven Winners Shrubs’s tagline, “A better garden starts with a better plant” informs of all its offerings and helped focus the company’s 2013 consumer campaign. In this clever and effective promotion, Proven Winners’ top 10 shrubs are personified with titles such as: Prodigy, Humdinger, Workhorse, Charmer and even Survivalist (one we are particularly attracted to, given our above mentioned conditions!).

Here’s how Proven Winners describes its unique point of differentiation:

Proven Winners partners with the top plant breeders around the world to ensure our varieties are vigorous, healthy, vibrant, and unique. Once a Proven Winners plant makes it to your house, you’ll fall in love. Proven Winners plants are:

  • Easy to grow and care for
  • Covered with blooms
  • Bright and colorful
  • All-season bloomers
  • Disease free
  • Trialed and tested

Meanwhile, these full page ads and product adjectives tell Proven Winners’ story succinctly and engagingly and direct customers to their site for more information and a free gardening guide. This spot-on, brand enhancing campaign makes its brand blossom.

Using this example as a creative springboard for your brand, how can Proven Winners inspire you and your team to “storysell” your products in a new, unusual and humdinger way?

Here are a few inspirational seeds to prompt internal conversations amongst your brand builders and product developers:

  • Can you easily identify your company’s top 10 “proven winners” and what your customers love about them?
  • What playful titles might you assign them?
  • What specific problems do these products solve?
  • How do these products erase or alleviate these pain points in your customers’ lives?
  • In what areas of your competitive landscape do they help your brand overachieve?

Take some time this season to cultivate new ways to make your brand blossom.

How a Dirty Mind Can Help Save Your Creative

My journalism mentor Charlie Adair [RIP] was an utterly twisted human being, but in the best way imaginable for a student who wanted to learn to be the best reporter he could be. He could have taught marketers a thing or too, as well-for example, about empathy, hitting deadline, and always thinking on one’s feet. The final exams for Charlie’s infamous interviewing course were legendary for putting students in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions. … Team Obama could use a Charlie Adair.

My journalism mentor Charlie Adair [RIP] was an utterly twisted human being, but in the best way imaginable for a student who wanted to learn to be the best reporter he could be.

He could have taught marketers a thing or too, as well—for example, about empathy, hitting deadline, and always thinking on one’s feet.

The final exams for Charlie’s infamous interviewing course were legendary for putting students in excruciatingly uncomfortable positions.

According to a post on his eulogy, one class “was merely given phone numbers to call for interviews. The students discovered people who were blind, who had AIDS, who were in great distress—all assembled by Charlie for the exercise.”

“Typical Charlie,” I thought as I read it.

For another exam, he loaded the entire class into an Econoline van, drove them to the front gate of New York’s Attica state prison and told them to go in and get quotes from lifers.

The final exam for my interviewing class was a quote scavenger hunt that included having to find, phone and quote people who were obscurely referenced—maybe by just a name or nickname. This was before the Internet.

My exam also involved getting a quote from Buffalo, NY’s then mayor Jimmy Griffin, a man legendary for physical altercations with reporters.

I aced that exam. For example, I knew Mayor Griffin would get increasingly agitated by the calls from Charlie’s students and would stop accepting them, so I made sure I was first.

Charlie called his interviewing class “boot camp for the terminally over privileged.”

Just before he died, I met him for lunch during a trip back to Buffalo. After we shook hands, I produced a copy of iMarketing News, the dot-com trade newspaper I had launched for DM News.

“Everything you taught me is in play in this newspaper,” I said. “Your name’s not on it, but you’re all through it.”

He died in 2000 from unexpected complications from what was supposed to be minor surgery. He was 58.

I think of Charlie often, especially when circumstances arise that he warned us would come about.

In fact, I thought of Charlie recently and how he would have chuckled when an email arrived from the Obama team with “Michelle” in the “from” line.

“Sometime soon, I want to meet you,” said the subject line.

Team Obama could use a Charlie Adair.

One of the simplest but most enduring lessons he taught me was that the best editors have dirty minds. They can help avoid publishing embarrassing copy with unintended meanings.

For example, I once saved a reporter from including a line in her piece about a football practice bubble that had been “problem plagued since its erection.”

If a Charlie Adair were on team Obama, he would have told them that subject line in the “Michelle” email sounded like something from a pornography spammer.

Everyone can use a Charlie Adair on their copy team-including you. That guy or gal on your team with the dirty mind could mean the difference between a sale and a giggle.

Postal service in Finland tries an experiment that direct marketers will despise

Did you see this story about Finland’s postal service? They’re conducting an experiment with a small group of customers, in order to cut down on pollution and overall costs, in which all household mail is opened by postal employees in a “secured” location and then scanned and sent by email to the customer. I suppose, in the age of Facebook, that people don’t mind having other people eyeing their personal mail.

Did you see this story about Finland’s postal service? They’re conducting an experiment with a small group of customers, in order to cut down on pollution and overall costs, in which all household mail is opened by postal employees in a “secured” location and then scanned and sent by email to the customer.

I suppose, in the age of Facebook, that people don’t mind having other people eyeing their personal mail … and that it’s hard as hell to open an envelope by ourself. The UK Telegraph writer begins the story smartly, sounding the alarm bells: “Not even the most intimate love letters, payslips, overdue bills and other personal messages will be spared under the controversial scheme.”

Of course, few of us get love letters anymore, but that doesn’t mean we relish the idea of others checking out our credit card bills. One commentator on a forum called the experiment straight from the KGB play book. (KGB seems a little extreme; I’ll go with Orwellian, instead.) We like our privacy, and it’s why the U.S. Postal Service continues to get such high marks from Americans: Our mail arrives where it’s supposed to, and nobody opens it. Likewise, we receive mail that’s retained its seal. When that seal is broken, so is our trust.

For the volunteer Finns, they can actually get their mail pieces delivered to them, but after it’s been resealed … by a stranger. Creepy, methinks.

The direct marketing community, meanwhile, must frown on such an experiment. Reducing a well designed mail piece to a measly email? Now that’s a lousy deal.

For now, some private companies are offering such services to consumers, such as Earth Class Mail, which originally brought the idea to Swiss Post, and Zumbox, which also scans your mail and then puts it into your Zumbox email box.

But since marketers will be charged anywhere from 2 cents to 5 cents per mail piece on Zumbox, I don’t see that many companies wanting to foot that bill for essentially an upgraded email. Again, it simply robs direct mail of its true “landing” and “feeling” power. They’re acting like the recipient is the beneficiary, but we all know that it’s Zumbox … while customer and mailer alike have their relationship digitally reduced.

And like my colleague Hallie Mummert said to me, “Who’s going to sign up for yet one more inbox via which to receive non-targeted junk mail?” People still like mail, maybe even more so now because there are many ways to control the flow, but people are getting rather sick of email. So in some ways Zumbox, and certainly Finland, may even be behind the curve.